Below is a list of five things I wish someone had told me right at the beginning of my pre-med career. I’ve put them together in the hopes that you, my fellow pre-med classmate, will benefit from them and be able to make the right decisions early on. Really, the list could be much longer, but these are the top five things that have stood out to me.
This is Much Bigger Than You
Stated differently, there’s a whole community of pre-health students, health care providers and other related individuals out there; it’s not just you anymore. Hopefully one of the reasons you strive to be a doctor is to do something greater than yourself while positively impacting others through health care. There’s many ways in which this is much bigger than you, but I am focusing on the pre-medical part, wherein you will discover (if you haven’t already) this whole new world of people all sharing their insight, knowledge, and stories with you. I believe that the sooner you’re connected, the better off you will be. It was during my time stationed in South Korea that I made plans to change my career path and go back to school. There was a sense of disconnection present because I no longer shared the similar goals of those around me and many didn’t understand and questioned why I would leave. Plenty of my co-workers, leaders and mentors were encouraging but they didn’t quite grasp the full significance of what this meant for me, and honestly, neither did I. During that first meeting with my advisor, when she designated my file “pre-med” after inquiring about my career goals, I was really shocked. There was a designation? This was a thing? More pleasant surprises happened as I learned about a pre-medical advisor and pre-medical clubs at my university. I quickly became involved and found myself surrounded with people I was able to relate to and learn from. I’m not saying you should surround yourself with only pre-med students, but I have found it beneficial to have them in my life. And when you consider online forums, blogs and other social media, books, and podcasts, this community of people is on a global scale! I found these additional resources myself through both word of mouth and personal research. There are people out there who have no idea these resources exist, sometimes years into their pre-medical career. No one should feel alone on this journey; go do some research and find your group of people!
Listen to Other People…But Don’t
This branches off number one and involves you becoming part of the pre-medical and medical community. One minute you’re deciding to become a doctor and the next minute everyone is giving you advice regarding how you should go about this. The vast majority of the time, I’ve found this advice to be enlightening, beneficial, and accurate. I love hearing what others have to say because of their different knowledge base, range of experiences and unique perspective. But once or twice over the last year, I’ve had some extremely wrong advice given to me. A fellow pre-med student said I should wait to volunteer or shadow any doctors until my junior year of college…when I would be APPLYING to medical school if I go by the traditional timeline. Clearly, she didn’t know what she was talking about and thankfully I knew better than to listen to her. If I were to follow her advice, I would be rigorously studying for the MCAT and be hard pressed for time; adding in extra activities at this point would just be stressful. Second, what would happen if I started volunteering in a hospital or shadowing a doctor and realized I actually didn’t think this was right for me? That being a doctor isn’t exactly what’s portrayed on Grey’s Anatomy? There’s many other reasons a student should start these activities sooner, but I’m just making a point here. Listen to what others say, but with a caveat: do your own research. If you’re told something new, look it up and/or ask your advisor about it. Even if what they’re saying isn’t wrong, it may not apply to your own situation. As the saying goes, take things with a grain of salt.
Your Advisor is Your Best Friend
If your university has an advisor, meet with them or at least contact them early on in the semester because they are the subject matter experts on getting to medical school. They have already successfully advised many people who are now medical students or doctors. If you’ve read my other posts, you know that last year I attended a university in Alabama and due to some unforeseen life circumstances, I’m now attending a school in Virginia. I’ve now experienced two different advising styles and can comment on them. My general advisor in Alabama suggested I meet with the university’s pre-med advisor, which I did right away. I was subsequently put on the pre-med advising office’s email distribution list, and the advisor planned out my next four years with me, including pre-requisite classes and things like shadowing and preparing for the MCAT; I was given a hard copy of this plan to take home. One-on-one meetings and personalized advice were some things offered by the advising office, which I appreciated. My pre-med advisor even knew the students by name that came to see her regularly and offered many opportunities that I participated in, like meeting with the Director of Admissions for several nearby medical schools. She helped to get me on track and better understand what was expected of me from medical schools. Her office provided many other resources such as a committee letter, mock interviews, personal statement reviews, etc. As you can see, just getting connected with her office had huge benefits and was an important first step in my college education and pre-medical path. Because of the sheer number of pre-medical students at my new university in Virginia, group advising is offered at specific times throughout the semester. When a student is closer to applying to medical school and interviewing, one-on-one sessions are then offered. There are lots of opportunities available, which I find out about through emails from the pre-medical advising office. During orientation, I made sure that I signed up for the listserv so I could stay connected in this much different environment. Through both types of advising situations, I’ve found that getting involved early on is key to being successful and staying in the loop!
Don’t overload your schedule
If you’re anything like me, you want to get involved in anything and everything. I honestly wish I could sleep less so I can do more; If I had a superpower, that would probably be it. But since that isn’t going to happen anytime soon, I’ll stick to doing those things I’m most passionate about and cutting out the rest. I’m a big fan of trying out new things to explore interests and be a little adventurous, but year one I made the rookie mistake of overloading my schedule with a heavy course load after being out of high school for a long time, serving in the National Guard and participating in a lot of three-day drills which made me miss Friday lectures, volunteering, and joining lots of clubs I may not have had the time for, on top of normal life stuff like taking care of my cats and watching Game of Thrones. Simply put, life got real busy really quick. None of these things were bad on their own but I initially didn’t find a balance with them or have great time management skills in order to make it all work. The normal pre-med life is busy the way it is so do yourself a favor and find that balance early on. Make sure to give yourself ‘you time’ so you can recharge and relax; you won’t be sorry for it.
Be true to yourself
Do what you love and love what you do. If that means you aren’t a science major but instead study art, then good for you! And yes, if you’re right at the beginning of your pre-med journey and don’t already know, you DO NOT have to be a science major to go to medical school. That is a myth! Many medical schools do have pre-requisite classes you’ll have to take in addition to your major and you’ll need a science foundation before taking the MCAT. When you volunteer or join clubs, do things that you are passionate about and enjoy being a part of. Be true to yourself and you will shine and have room for personal growth and development. If you’ve listened to a pre-medical podcast or read any medical blogs, you’ll realize these people are diverse and each one has a unique story about how they got where they are right now. Being true to yourself also means occasionally taking detours and having the courage to change your path. Last year, a fellow student and friend of mine started the year wanting to become a doctor but realized after a class presentation by a physician assistant that they may be better suited for that career instead of being a doctor. And you know what? That’s awesome! Twenty years down the road they might be glad they followed their gut instinct.